A first timer’s guide to Sydney, Australia
From the iconic Sydney Opera House to the historic pagodas of Bronte, here's our list of what to see and do on your first visit to the Emerald City.
Barbecues flaming at dusk, music festivals, beautiful beaches, one of the world’s largest natural harbours — Sydney is a city that’s uniquely beautiful. From the Opera House to Carriage works — an old railway yard transformed into cultural and concert halls — the city's icons of architecture and design give it a plethora of shapes and spaces which define it. Then there’s its thriving food scene with a long list of new bars and restaurants, including Honey, a new spot supplying diners with the sounds and flavours of Korea. Or try sunrise yoga at the North Sydney Olympic Pool, due to open in August following a restoration, to experience Sydney's strong focus on fitness and wellness. Here, we round up all the things you should do and see on your first visit to one of Australia’s most exciting metropolises.
1. Enjoy the open air
Sydney just might be the most open-air city in the world — and with such an enviable climate, life is centred around being outside. Do as the locals do and head out on the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk — stopping for a swim in the calm waters of Gordon’s Bay, or sign up for surf lessons at the world-famous Bondi Beach. Hyde Park is a great spot for cyclists, or Goods Line — a 800m long linear park — is ideal for joggers. Be sure to round off a morning of fresh air with an Aussie brunch of avocado and sourdough toast on the terrace at PCP at Paramount House, one of the city’s coolest new hotels.
2. Visit the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge
The twin icons of the city are the stars of the one of the world’s most mesmerising harbours. Each sunrise and sunset, the rising and falling sun casts shadows over these marvels of engineering that seem to sit so perfectly within the natural wonder of the waters. The Bridge is popular with climbers who lap up the views, but even from down below, the arching steel structure manages to impress. The Opera House is an instant symbol of the city — its sailboat design by Jørn Utzon epitomised the modern, confident Australia that emerged in the 20th century. There are plenty of concerts and events taking place in 2023 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its opening.
3. Admire the designs of New Sydney
Sydneysiders have embraced the best of modern design, and these interesting aesthetics play out at the likes of the new Ace Hotel, uncompromisingly hipster and worth ducking into for a drink and a rota of small plates. Barangaroo is an entirely new city district in the old container port terminal. Here, expect to see skyscrapers and restaurants and a brand-new city park, Barangaroo Reserve, a nod to the area’s indigenous roots with sculptures and gardens designed for meditation.
4. Discover the art scene
Sydney’s festival scene offers world-class live performances, with small galleries such as White Rabbit — home to an impressive collection of contemporary Chinese art — have made international ripples. Then there’s the Sydney Modern, a huge addition to the Art Gallery of New Wales by architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa. This landmark building tumbles down towards the Harbour and is predicted to be the ground zero of modern art in Sydney in the coming years. Upcoming exhibitions include Louise Bourgeois and Vasily Kandinsk.
5. Tuck into Asian street food
Sydney has a diverse population hailing from Thailand, China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan — meaning it dishes up some of the tastiest Asian food around. Chinatown has dozens of places to grab delicious dim sum or hand-pulled noodles. Spice Alley is a hipster enclave in Chippendale, where street food eateries serving everything from nasi goreng to sushi are grouped in a historic laneway, perfect for a low-key dinner before a night out on the tiles in the bars of nearby Surry Hills.
6. Get to know Bronte
Two kilometres south of Bondi is Bronte. Its park has a miniature train and handsome historic pagodas and barbecues, while the beach offers challenging surf breaks but also a sheltered rocky area where you can safely swim. The piece de resistance is the world-famous rock pool which aficionados know is both more fun and more picturesque than the better-known Bondi Icebergs. Look for the posters and plaques telling the fascinating stories of pioneering female swimmers Evelyn Whillier, Mina Wylie and Fanny Durack who trained here.
Apply for a visitor visa or ETA (Electronic Travel Authority) online to visit Australia with pickvisa.com. All that’s required are travel details and passport, and the visa can either be emailed to you as a downloadable document or an online visa.